Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Words on Wednesday...with Trevor Lunn MLA
My sincere thanks to Mr Lunn for taking my questions. So then let's begin...
You are an Alliance Party MLA for Lagan Valley. Talk us through a typical day in your life.
Monday and Tuesday, plenary sessions in Stormont plus questions to ministers. Wednesday, in constituency. Thursday, public accounts committee. Friday, education committee.
I also have duties as a Lisburn councillor in terms of economic development, corporate services and planning committees and am a member of the district policing partnership. As a result I don't really have typical days they are all different.
What made you decide to get involved with the Alliance Party?
I decided to get involved in politics in 1993. None of the other parties had any appeal for me. I saw Alliance values and attitudes as the only way forward.
Many political commentators predicted you would struggle to hold on to the seat that the Alliance Party held in Lagan Valley during the Assembly election, yet you managed to do precisely that. Were you surprised by your election result?
Maybe as the sitting Mayor of Lisburn I had the benefit of extra profile, but there is a solid Alliance vote here so I was reasonably confident.
What are some of the main issues that you are dealing with at present in your Lagan Valley constituency?
Maze stadium, retention of Lagan valley hospital, John Lewis, decline of city centre.
What are your thoughts on Ian Paisley stepping down as NI's First Minister and do you think Peter Robinson will do a good job in his place?
I have a longstanding liking personally for Doctor Paisley but it is time for him to go and Peter will do an efficient job if he takes it.
On a similar note what are your thoughts on Bertie Ahern stepping down as Taoiseach and do you think Brian Cowen will prove a good successor?
Bertie was good for Ireland and for the peace process but chickens tend to come home to roost and he made a wise decision. Brian is a very capable replacement but people said that about Gordon Brown did they not? People skills help.
I read a report in the News Letter in which you accused the DUP of delaying tactics and of using the Maze stadium row as a political football. How should this matter be resolved in your opinion?
By an early decision to proceed at the maze. No amount of DUP bluster can cover the fact that some of them are terrified at the thought of the conflict transformation centre. They are totally split on the issue and it has nothing to do with cost.
You served as Mayor of Lisburn for a year from 2006-07. How would you rate that experience?
Best year of my life despite the heart attack. I hope I brought the mayorship to places and people who had never encountered it before. Great to have brought President McAleese to Lisburn even if most of the DUP didn't turn up. They missed a wonderful occasion.
There was a recent Panorama programme on BBC which suggested that sectarianism remains a major problem in many parts of NI. They cited an area of North Belfast where there are two bus stops about 100 metres apart, but one is used by Catholics and the other by Protestants. What needs to be done in your view to bring an end to this kind of segregation?
Didn't see the programme but the problems remain. It will be a slow process but hearts and minds can be changed and there is a lot of cross community work going on unpublicised.
What are your thoughts on a united Ireland and will it ever occur in your opinion?
It isn't a big issue to me but as things stand I would vote for the status quo. I don't think its inevitable but hey we are all Europeans now!
The Lisbon Treaty is a big issue for the European Union right now. Are you disappointed that UK citizens have not been given a referendum on the matter by Gordon Brown?
If he did they would reject it so he won't. That's politics.
What does the future hold in store for the Alliance Party?
We still have a major role to play and we wont go away you know. Stormont needs an opposition and NI needs centre ground, non-sectarian politics. That's us.
What does the future hold in store for you?
Not ready for going out to pasture yet. Hope to do at least a second term and stay with council if the rules allow. Things look good for NI and the Republic. I want to stay involved.
Finally I'd like to play a small round of word association. I'm sure you know what it entails. Basically just outline what word comes into your head when you hear the following:
Ian Paisley - history
Bertie Ahern - fly
Martin McGuinness - surprising
Peter Robinson - clever
David Ford - excellent
Sinn Féin - bearable
DUP - sanctimonious
Alliance Party - brave
Lagan Valley - home
Trevor Lunn - lucky
Thank you for your time, Mr Lunn. All the best for the future.
Stay tuned to United Irelander for future interviews.
Previous interviews can be found here.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Concern over EC WTO proposal - Govt
"Ireland still has very serious concerns about the latest proposals from the European Commission tabled at the World Trade Organisation negotiations, according to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin.
"Speaking after Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson briefed Foreign Ministers in Brussels this morning, Mr Martin said the proposals were unbalanced and unacceptable to Ireland.
"He said 'the risk of serious damage to European agriculture from an unsatisfactory WTO deal must be of grave concern to everyone in Europe, producers and consumers alike.'"
Wow, you mean to tell me that the European Union is not taking Irish concerns to heart? Surely that can't be right? After all, the Lisbon Treaty campaign from the government has centred on how beneficial the European Union has been to Ireland, rather than the Treaty itself.
The really sad thing in all of this folks is that government ministers like Mr Martin will still call for a Yes vote, even though it's plain to see that Ireland needs more of an input in European affairs, which the Lisbon Treaty will NOT offer us.
The simple reality is if you want Irish interests to be protected, then vote No to Lisbon. I expect there will be a great many farmers who do precisely that in June.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Isn't it funny...
What a funny people we are.
Greece should have won by the way...
Weekend Words...with Klara McDonnell
Taking my questions this week is Irish singer and actress Klara McDonnell. Apologies to Klara for the lateness of the post.
So then without further ado...
You work in the entertainment industry as a singer and an actor. Have you always had a strong desire to be a performer?
Well my mother said before that I was singing before I was talking. I remember being about seven and seeing Eternal Flame the Bangles song on TV and thinking I wish I was singing that song and seeing The Wizard of Oz and wishing I was in that film. I used to mess around with a little Dictaphone making up stories, songs and fake radio shows! I guess I was a strange child.
How does being on stage singing, compare to being on stage acting?
Well I suppose acting on stage, you can't communicate with the audience quite the same way as when you are singing. I tend not to notice the audience and am caught up in what ever part I am playing. When I am singing if the audience is quite lively I can feed off their energy. I tend to talk a lot in between songs, sometimes I almost fancy myself as doing a bit of stand up comedy in between songs. Having said that its probably the moments when I try to be serious about what a song is about that are the funny parts. I write about a lot of random subjects.
Have your family been supportive of your efforts in the industry?
Yes I have very been lucky that my family have been very supportive of me pursuing my dreams.
Where are some of the places that you've toured as a musician?
I lived in the South of Germany for nearly two years and played a lot of Irish pubs over there and busked a lot. As well as being a singer songwriter, I am also in an Irish rock band called Hidden Faces. The band are on a break at the moment but last year we had a UK tour and through that I got to play in the Cavern in Liverpool. It was great to play there as I am a big Beatles fan.
Who would be some of your musical influences?
Well as I have just mentioned I do like the Beatles! I would say I have a very varied taste in much, although I have no idea if this effects the songs I write. When I was growing up my parents would play a lot of music everything from rock such as Bruce Springsteen to old country like Patsy Cline to Motown. At 17 I discovered Tom Waits, who I think is a really versatile songwriter. I'm also into a lot of hip hop and r n' b.
Is there a song that you've written that you take particular pride in?
The R.E.M. song Everybody Hurts is a song I used to sing I always loved the way that although some people might find it to be a depressing song, it is essentially a song about hope. I always wanted to write a song with a similar theme saying that we are all the same and can feel really down at one point and not to give up. That song I wrote is called Shooting Star.
You've done a bit of busking. Any unusual stories to tell from that?
Well when I busked in Germany there were different rules for busking in different cities. Sometimes I found it hard to remember them and to obey them. One city might have a rule that one can only play in a spot for 30 minutes then you have to move 300 metres away to a new spot if you want to play more. Another city had actual official busking spots with sign posts and you could only play at those places but for no more than one hour. I once got a 50euro note off one person which really surprised me. From busking I have gotten other music work for instance singing at pubs/parties and I once sang at a wedding in Germany....in German!
I've read you mention on your blog a little over a week ago that you were going to be recording some of your songs in Ashtown Studios. How did everything go with that?
It went well. I was nervous as I hadn't recorded my own songs in long while. I recorded some vocals and guitar and am going back in later this month to finish off the arrangements. I am currently seeking a Cello player to play on a few of the tracks.
With regards to acting, you played a part in the independent Irish film Apollo Music Club, which is due for release in July according to their Myspace page. How did you find that whole experience?
The cast and crew on Apollo Music Club were great fun and I am looking forward to seeing it. I played a character called Linda who has some things in common with me as she is an ambitious singer/songwriter. I did find I could relate to her in some ways. She is more ruthless and egotistical than me though! I had blonde hair before filming and dyed it red as in the script, Linda had red hair. I've kept it this colour since as I have actually been getting more castings and more work as a red head.
Whereabouts would be people be likely to hear you performing over the next few months?
I present an online Irish radio show every Monday night on LiveIreland.com. I have been doing this the last few months and its really interactive as I'm on a webcam while I present. I do a lot of chair dancing to the music! I'm playing music gigs near the end of the May and will be updating my MySpace page with dates. I also post regular videos on to YouTube.
Where do you see yourself in ten year's time?
I would still like to be doing what I am doing now though more internationally and to finally buy a really nice house!
Finally I like to finish off with a word game. Just say what you think to the following...
Elvis or The Beatles - The Beatles
Westlife or U2 - U2
Louis Walsh or Linda Martin - Linda Martin
Dustin or Dana - Dana
Klara, the actress or Klara, the musician - Both!
My thanks to Klara for taking my questions. I wish her all the best.
This Wednesday I put some questions to the Alliance Party's Trevor Lunn. Stay tuned to United Irelander for future interviews.
Previous Weekend Words features here.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Weekend Words...with Mark Little
My thanks to Mark for taking my questions. OK let's begin...
I understand you studied economics and politics at Trinity College. At this point in your life did you know you wanted a career in broadcast journalism?
I had been on the road to journalism for some years before I went to Trinity. I decided to become a journalist the day I realised I had no hope of playing for Liverpool. I was about 9 at the time. I do remember watching the great Brian Farrell when I was 11 or 12 and thinking his was the best job in the world.
Most Irish people know you as the presenter of RTE's Prime Time. How did you get involved with RTE?
In many ways, I am a really bad example to younger people who want a career in journalism. I was just really lucky. RTE were hiring the September I left journalism school. A screen test and interview and the rest is … blah blah blah.
When you know that you're going to be discussing a particularly important issue on the show, how do you prepare yourself?
I generally put on my headphones, block out the world and then read every possible piece of information I can get my hands on about the issue at hand. After that, I try to work out the simplest, shortest questions based on that information. Then I try them out in my head to see how an interviewee might answer. Based on all of this, I then map out the interview on a piece of paper. Then I hide the piece of paper.
What would a typical day in your life involve?
A typical Prime Time day begins with a morning conference at 10 and then research and constant liaison with the Executive Producer of the show through the day. We have an afternoon conference before writing scripts and preparing for interview. We’re in studio at 8.30 and out of RTE by 11pm.
You were named Television Journalist of the Year for your reporting in Afghanistan in 2001. I imagine that was a very proud moment for you?
Yes. For me and Eddie Doyle, the producer of the winning Prime Time report.
You've worked for RTE in some of the world's most dangerous places. Do you ever get nervous reporting from these difficult regions?
Yes. But I get even more anxious if I go too long without a trip to one of these places.
Who would you regard as your biggest inspiration?
I tend not to have any heroes. They will generally end up breaking your heart.
You are the author of two books, Turn Left at Greenland: In Search of the Real America and Zulu Time: When Ireland Went to War. Tell us a bit about them.
They were inspired by the same motivation, which was to bring a little nuance to our prevailing views of the United States, and the world in general.
Do you see yourself writing any more books in the future?
I am writing a third book right now about the transformation of the United States after George Bush. It’s due out in September.
You've worked as a Washington correspondent for RTE and I've seen you a few weeks ago reporting on the Democratic race over there. Would you find the American political scene to be more exciting than the Irish one?
Not necessarily more exciting. But American politics has a far greater scale to it.
How do you relax when you're not working? What are some of your favourite pastimes?
Making my kids laugh and sleeping. My two absolute favourite things.
What's the strangest thing that's happened to you whilst you've been a journalist?
I watched a volcano explode. I’ve seen the space shuttle lift off. I’ve seen hurricanes in action. I have felt an earthquake. I met George Bush.
What advice would you give to anyone who aspires to have a career in journalism?
Work hard. Have passion. Keep challenging your assumptions.
What are some of the projects that you've got lined up for the future?
I have ideas for more books and documentaries and TV shows and Online projects but if I told you more I would have to kill you.
Thanks once again for taking my questions, Mark.
Taking my questions next weekend is Irish singer and actress Klara McDonnell. Stay tuned to United Irelander for future interviews.
Previous Weekend Words features here.
Friday, May 09, 2008
Nothing can stop unity
"British-Irish relationships have never been stronger. When we have Britain, Ireland and America working together, nothing can stop us." - British PM Gordon Brown addressing participants of an investment conference for Ireland's north.
Encouraging words from the British Prime Minister for those of us who wish to see the island of Ireland become closer with a view towards reunification.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Thursday Thoughts: Meet the new boss...
Unsurprisingly I'm not too enamoured with the new man seeing as I voted for the opposition at last year's election. I'm not quite sure what the next few years will bring under Cowen. It's interesting that much like our neighbours across the sea, a charismatic politician who survived many elections has been replaced by someone who appears quite bereft of personality but yet claims to be good with the books. Time will tell but if he matches his British counterpart's performance as Prime Minister, then Ireland's opposition will have some good times to look forward to.
It's not easy to predict how Brian Cowen will compare to Bertie Ahern in the top job, besides reviving the fortunes of the scraggly-haired look, but I figured I'd take a look at some of the main issues facing Brian Cowen and speculate as to how well he will do compared to his predecessor.
Well we're all aware of this global economic slump at the present time and it will be a difficult beginning for Cowen. Ahern walked into the job with the economy in pretty good shape which he was able to build upon. Brian Lenihan is now the Finance Minister in Cowen's cabinet and it will be a big test for him. Difficult one to judge this, but I suspect Cowen will have a tougher time than Ahern.
Surely this government's greatest failing. Harney remains the Health Minister and it could be argued that this is an area for the PDs to sort out but I would say that everyone needs to take responsibility. I am inclined to think little will change with Harney at the helm. I think this will be a problem for Cowen.
Again I think this government could have done, and should do, more to combat the criminal elements in the country. Dermot Ahern has been named the new Minister for Justice and I would hope that he and Cowen together will take measures to make the country safer for people, however I worry that all we'll get from Dermot Ahern is excuses. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that improvements will be made.
I thought Mary Hanafin was poor in her position of Minister for Education and Science. I was not surprised therefore to see her replaced in the role. Batt O'Keefe now takes over and I suspect he and Cowen will oversee an improved education system from previous administrations.
With Dermot Ahern now Justice Minister, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs is Micheál Martin. I worry about this one. I'm not a fan of Mr Martin and I think he could prove a liability. Much of his work will be focused on Ireland's north and I suspect Cowen will take a very hands-on approach to NI. I don't see Cowen doing as well with NI as Ahern did, and I wonder if Cowen and Martin could effectively deal with any issues that arise for the North in the way Bertie and Dermot Ahern were able to previously.
Overall I think there is major scope for improvement for this new cabinet but the real test undoubtedly will be how Cowen and co handle the economy. The handling of the economy has pretty much kept them in power and if things go awry, it will be interesting to see how Cowen et al. cope.
Ahern managed to deal with his troubles remarkably well and his reputation as the 'Teflon Taoiseach' was well justified. It will be most interesting to see whether Cowen will duplicate this ability that Ahern possessed. My gut feeling is that he will not.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Words on Wednesday...with Dr Diana Panke
My thanks to Dr Panke for taking my questions on the Lisbon Treaty. So without further ado, let's begin...
You are a lecturer in European Politics at University College Dublin. Could you explain a bit about some of the subjects you deal with at the University?
I am teaching classes on European integration and European governance on the BA and the MA level as well as qualitative methods on the PhD level. The classes on the European Union introduce into or analyse into detail the basic structure of the EU, its main institutions (the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, the European Court of Justice), policy-making procedures, policy areas as well as contemporary issues, such as citizenship, European elections, or European democracy.
As you know the country is preparing for the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in a few weeks' time. I understand you are in favour of the Treaty. Why is that?
In a nutshell, the Lisbon Treaty considerably improves two shortcomings of the current European Union: Firstly, it introduces institutional reforms, allowing for effective and efficient policy-making in an enlarged Union with now 27 member states. Secondly, the Lisbon treaty brings more democracy to the European Union. For example, it increases the competencies of the European Parliament and also of national parliaments in the decision-making process.
The Lisbon Treaty is an institutional reform that adapts the European Union to the 21st century. With the end of the cold war, the EU became bigger. Today, the EU is no longer a club of six, twelve, or sixteen states, but encompasses 27 states. This increases the heterogeneity of interests at stake for every single European law. Yet, the decision-making procedures currently in place had been designed for a lower number of states than 27. In the worst case, this could lead to lengthy decision-making procedures or even to policy blockades – preventing the EU from reacting to and actively shaping of common market polices, the globalisation, environmental reforms. The Lisbon Treaty allows for smoother decision-making and ensures that the EU-27 can be as successful as the smaller EU had been for the last 50 years in fostering economic welfare, peace and democracy in Europe.
Equally important, the Lisbon Treaty democratises the European Union. It strengthens the roles of the European Parliament and national parliaments, introduces direct participation of European citizens, and strengthens the democratic ‘one man, one vote’ principle in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
One of the worries about the Lisbon Treaty is that it is preparation for an eventual European Superstate. The Treaty itself in its preamble speaks of "reinforcing the European identity", "creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe" and resolves to "advance European integration". In view of this kind of language, would you agree that such worries are understandable?
Comparing the Lisbon Treaty with the Treaties after Amsterdam and Nice (the current EU), the EU would resemble far less a superstate model if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified. The Lisbon Treaty (Art. 50) allows member states to withdraw from the European Union for the first time. Thus, the Lisbon Treaty acknowledges that the EU is closer to a confederation of states rather than a European (federal) superstate.
From the very beginning of European Integration, the preamble of the Treaties had always paid tribune to the idea of its founding fathers that European Integration is a means to foster peace, democracy and welfare on the European continent/ its member states. In order to achieve this, politicians sought from the very beginning that institutions allowing for cooperation between states as well as successful market creating and regulating policies only partially do the job of fostering peace and democracy. Successful integration should be complemented by a feeling of belongingness of the peoples of Europe, so that they seek to cooperate also in difficult times instead of acting unilaterally and eventually waging war. Thus, the statements in the preamble of the Lisbon Treaty do not invent new directions of European Integration, but follow the path, which the EU had successfully taken on for the last 50 years.
Article 10.3. states that "Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen." Is that not a pretty hollow statement however considering there is a reluctance to allow French and Dutch citizens a vote on the Treaty - when they rejected the EU Constitution - and a reluctance by Gordon Brown to give British citizens a referendum as they were promised?
Article 10 focuses on the day-to-day decision making of the European Union and has nothing to do with how Treaty reforms shall be ratified. The latter is entirely regulated by national constitutions and solely subject to domestic considerations. The European Union or its institutions cannot interfere into such essential affairs of its member states.
Transparency is important to hold politicians accountable for decisions, which is itself an important prerequisite of every democracy. The Lisbon treaty considerably increases the transparency of European policy-making, since there won’t be negotiations behind closed door anymore in the Council of Ministers. The European Union will in this respect become much more transparent than national governments, which usually negotiate with the exclusion of the public.
Probably my biggest concern about this Treaty is the qualified majority voting system. We're told that a qualified majority will be:
"55 % of the members of the Council, comprising at least fifteen of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65 % of the population of the Union. A blocking minority must include at least four Council members, failing which the qualified majority shall be deemed attained."
How could this possibly be of any benefit to the Irish people?
The Lisbon Treaty is an important step towards more democracy in the European Union. Democracy means that citizens are regarded as equal. Every citizen has the same amount of votes and all votes are weighted equally. The current Council of Ministers is not democratic since the interests of European citizens are unequally represented. Bigger member states have more votes than smaller member states. Yet, the amount of votes of each state is not proportional to its population. Smaller member states have more votes in proportion to their numbers of citizens, than bigger member states. In effect, this means that a the voice of a citizen of a small member state, such as Luxembourg or of Malta, is much more important than the same voice of a citizen of a big member states, such as Poland or France. This is not democratic, since it violates the ‘one citizen, one vote’ principle. The Lisbon Treaty does not completely solve this democratic deficit, but reduces the disproportionality between population size and votes in the Council of Ministers through the distribution of votes and the principle of double majorities. This is good for all people of Europe, because it strengthens democracy in the European Union. At the same time, the double majority principle requires that small and big states form coalitions in order to pass policies. It will not be possible for big states alone to make European laws against the will of small member states. This is good for small states, such as Ireland.
The Irish Daily Mail recently revealed a leaked memo from a civil servant in the Department of Foreign Affairs to a Diplomat in the British Embassy on the government's Yes campaign saying that the "aim is to focus the campaign on overall benefits of the EU rather than the Treaty itself." I find it quite disgraceful that there is an effort to block debate on the Treaty. What are your thoughts on the matter?
The point is that the Lisbon Treaty introduces, firstly, institutional reforms, making the EU fit for policy-making processes with 27 different states, and, secondly, democratic measures, increasing the possibilities of participation for citizens and parliaments. These reforms are of complex legal character. It takes more time and more effort to explain them to the Irish people (like to any other people) than policy reforms would, since it is much easier to communicate that the EU has competencies in policy field X, than to communicate what a double majority means. Personally, I think it is important to explain the current EU institutions to the public, explain the difficulties of policy making with 27 different cooks over the pan, and highlight than, how the Lisbon reform Treaty improves things. Yet, this takes effort on both sides: it requires that politicians are willing and have the time to explain things in detail, and also that the public is interested and willingness to invest time and energy to learn about the political system of the European Union.
I'm worried that this Treaty gives too much power to the European Council and that the European Parliament will have too little input. Article 36 states that:
"The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall regularly consult the European Parliament on the main aspects and the basic choices of the common foreign and security policy and the common security and defence policy and inform it of how those policies evolve. He shall ensure that the views of the European Parliament are duly taken into consideration. Special representatives may be involved in briefing the European Parliament. The European Parliament may ask questions of the Council or make recommendations to it and to the High Representative..."
Does this Article not concern you as much as it does me?
The Lisbon Treaty strongly increases the competencies of the European Parliament. It might not be perfect from a parliamentary democratic point of view (which would ask for an even stronger role of the EP), but compared to the Nice Treaty (the EU as it currently stands), the role of the EP is immensely strengthened. Previously, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (called "the second pillar"), was purely intergovernmental, which means that neither the European Parliament nor the European Commission or the European Court of Justice had any competencies in this policy field.
Regarding the nation-states' member votes, Ireland has been granted just 7 votes whereas countries like the UK, France, Germany and Italy get 29 votes. Even the likes of Hungary and Bulgaria have more weight than ourselves as they have 10 votes each. Does Ireland become a political irrelevance through the Lisbon Treaty?
No, see my answer to question 6.
Ireland will not become political irrelevant through the Lisbon Treaty, nor will any of the other small member states. Under the new voting system in the Council of Ministers (double majority), it is impossible that the big states, such as the UK, Germany, France and Poland, solely determine the content of European policies. Every coalition needs small states on board as well.
In addition, the usual style of decision-making in the European Union is very consensual. In less than 10 percent of all European laws, member states actually voted in the Council of Ministers. In all other instances, decisions are taken by consensus, so that no country is outvoted. This is the usual practice in the European Union and prevents that decisions are taken against the explicit interests of a member state – regardless of whether it is big or small.
Some commentators have suggested that Ireland's standing within the EU will be hurt by a No vote to Lisbon. Personally I find suggestions like this to be simply scaremongering tactics. What do you think?
Whether Ireland’s standing will be affected is difficult to say.
I interviewed Kieran Allen some weeks back, a campaigner against the Lisbon Treaty and an editor of VoteNo.ie, and when speaking of those in support of the Treaty he said they "cannot, however, name one extra, specific legal right that the people of Ireland will get, which they do not currently enjoy". Can you do so?
This is not true. For example, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty grants member states the right to leave the Union. There are also a series of more positive rights, such as direct democratic participation of European citizens, to name but a few.
Mr Allen also remarked that "Europe has shifted from being a zone of stability within the global order to one where millions of workers are fighting to defend gains they won in the past". What are your thoughts on that?
Again, I strongly disagree. Without the European Union, the economic development of EU member states would not have achieved such high levels. Yet, we are living in a changing world. Globalisation is a fact and cannot be prevented or ignored. With the globalisation, states are more directly affected by global competition, which, produces economic gains on the one hand, but also places the risk of loosing jobs to countries that can simply produce at lower costs. The European Union helps to mediate at least some of the effects of globalisation. The European Union belongs to the three big economic powers in the world (next to the US, and China) and can much more effectively influence standards for trade, labour, the environment and human rights than any of the EU member states could do for themselves.
What would a rejection of the Treaty by the Irish electorate mean for Ireland and the EU?
It would basically mean that the Irish and all other citizens of the European Union continue to live in the European Union as we know it today. A ‘no’ to the Lisbon Treaty does not mean that Ireland will no longer be a member of the EU. Rather, a ‘no’ stops the ratification process and the Lisbon Treaty cannot be adopted in any of the EU member states. Thus, we will all end up with a European Union that is less democratic and less effective than an EU after the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty. An Irish ‘no’ vote will prevent all peoples of Europe from exercising more democracy on the European Union. Also, the European Union will not become more effective, although we now have 27 instead of 16 member states.
If such a rejection occurs in June, do you believe the Irish government and the EU should respect the democratic wishes of the electorate and let the Treaty lie?
The Treaty as it is now formulated will definitely not be to put to another referendum just as it is. There are basically three options. Firstly, we could kept the EU in its current shape. This would neglect the fact that EU integration was so successful in the last 50 years, because the Europeans managed to adapt the EU to all the new challenges. With the end of the East-West conflict and the new independent Eastern European states, the EU underwent a process of considerable enlargement, which stabilises these new democracies, maintains peace and increases the welfare of all. It is questionable of whether the EU will be able to perform as good in the future (e.g. globalization) as it has in the past, if we stop it from adoption to new circumstances. A second option would be to carry the Lisbon treaty to grave and develop a completely new one. Such a completely new treaty should again address questions of how to make the EU more democratic and how to reform its decision-making procedures as to accommodate the heterogeneity arising form 27 different member states. Finally, Ireland and the EU member states could negotiate concessions for Ireland, change the Lisbon Treaty accordingly and start the ratification process again. Whether this would be fair to the peoples of other EU member states is a totally different question.
What would you say to anyone reading this right now who is unsure of where they stand on the Lisbon Treaty?
I would simply ask whether they want to keep the EU just as it is right now, or whether they want to live in a more democratic European Union, in which its citizens and their parliaments have greater powers to influence the future development of the EU and its policies. If someone is fine with the state of the Union, the Lisbon Treaty is not necessary, if someone seeks to gain a greater say in EU affairs, the Lisbon Treaty is a big step towards this direction.
Thank you for taking my questions Dr Panke. All the best.
This weekend I put some questions to RTE's Prime Time presenter Mark Little. Stay tuned to United Irelander for future interviews.
Previous interviews can be found here.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Top Ten Tuesday - Superheroes
It took an estimated $101m (£51m) in its opening weekend in the US and Canada becoming one of only 10 films to have broken the $100m barrier in its first three days.
So then, it seems that we still remain captivated by the figures who captured our imaginations all those years ago. To celebrate the release of Iron Man I thought I'd devote this week's top ten list to my favourite superheroes. So then without further ado...
1. Superman - Yes he can be a bit squeaky clean as a character but, for me anyway, Superman remains the king of all superheroes. I also believe the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve remains the best superhero movie ever made.
2. Batman - It's hard for me to choose between two and three but I'll give the nod to Batman due to the early Michael Keaton movies which were top notch in my view. I must admit however I wasn't too fond of the Christian Bale effort 'Batman Begins'. Maybe it was that horrible suit. Still, Batman is a great character with many layers, and perhaps the best adversaries. Plus he has a great car to boot.
3. Spider-man - Spidey of course doesn't need a car as he's got his webs. I still have my Spider-man action figure that I had as a boy and Spider-man remains a favourite of mine. A bit of a loser as Peter Parker but a great servant to New York ciry as the red and blue web-slinger.
4. The Incredible Hulk - The alter ego of Bruce Banner in the comic books but named David Banner in the TV series (according to creator Stan Lee this was because they thought Bruce sounded too gay), The Hulk is a brilliant superhero. The bad guys didn't like it when he was angry but everyone else did. The recent movie was a disappointment.
5. Iron Man - I haven't seen the movie yet but I intend to. Iron Man is the alter ego of Tony Stark. In the comic books he suffered from an alcohol problem which was unusual for a superhero. I'm not sure if that's the case in the film though. Top hero.
6. Captain America - Cap was a superhero who played his part in cheering up the American people, and indeed their troops, during World War 2. Captain America took the fight to Adolf Hitler and you have to respect him for that. Great costume too. There was a low-budget movie made about Captain America around 15 years ago which was just diabolical. I've no idea if they are planning another movie but I think they should do one.
7. X-Men - Yes I know I'm cheating here by lumping them all in together but I'm not crazy about them as individuals. Together though I think Wolverine, Cyclops and co are excellent. Far better than the Fantastic Four in my opinion. I was never into them.
8. Wonder Woman - She's definitely the sexiest superhero and she does a twirl and everything.
9. Blade - The vampire-hunter has to make my list. Really cool hero and the movies were good too...well, the first one was.
10. The Flash - Super speed doesn't seem like an exciting ability but I was always impressed with The Flash. Love the costume too. There needs to be a movie on this hero as well.
So there you go. My top ten favourite superheroes of all time. Feel free to comment on the list or maybe come up with your own one.
Monday, May 05, 2008
WMM officially stinks
Anyone know some decent alternatives to WMM?
Saturday, May 03, 2008
Weekend Words...with Audrey McCoy
My thanks to Audrey for taking my questions. So then, without further ado, let's begin...
You've been on Irish screens the past few weeks in the TV show Hollywood Trials. What prompted you to try out for the show?
When I first read about it, the series seemed to be a great opportunity to get an insight into the LA industry and to gain valuable training. I hoped that if I performed well and gave it my best shot I could help boost my career at home. I understood it can be a risk doing a documentary series, but once I had a few meetings and understood what the production company was aiming for, I had no doubts about taking part. With Margie Haber, Declan Lowney and Ros Hubbard on board I was thrilled to be chosen!
The show sees yourself and nine other actors attempting to make it in Hollywood . What was the atmosphere like with everybody?
We are all professionals, but of course it is difficult living and working with a group of people for a whole month, especially with the added pressure of feeling exposed in front of the cameras and wanting to perform well. Overall it was easier than I expected and I felt we turned to each other for support and advice.
You could be having a great day, but another person could be having a tough time and we had to learn to be sensitive to that. There was always a lot of humour and lightness, also when the pressure was on.
Competition for the final places looked tough. What goes through your mind when you're put in a competitive situation like that?
I felt quite exhausted after the three-day audition process. You never knew when you would be called to perform, so the adrenalin was constantly going. It was either fight or flight. The worst fear is letting yourself down and that fear lingers constantly. I kept telling myself to take it step by step, otherwise I would get overwhelmed, but my legs were shaking at one point! I am certain all the actors involved could deliver strong performances. The tough part was being good under pressure with time constraints and with cameras distracting you. Trying to remain focused on each task as it came to you was the key to staying relatively calm. We all have a tendency to try to compare ourselves to others and how they’re doing, but that’s just spreading energy where it won’t do you any good.
I understand that you have a twin sister who is also an actress. How did your sister react to the news you were going to LA for the show?
Sharon was absolutely ecstatic and the first person I called. Throughout the auditions she helped me prepare in the evenings. She knew how much it meant to me to go and kept leaving messages of encouragement on my mobile, including recordings of songs I love to keep my spirits up! She’s very proud.
On the first show I noticed you said you'd probably end up being the mummy of the group. Is that how things turned out?
I think Annemarie deserves that crown! But I had my moments. The guys were the best cooks, but the worst housekeepers!
On one of the episodes the actors all got cosmetic assistance and advice and you remarked that you weren't going to be a Barbie. Was that a fear held by the girls on the show? That they would be asked to alter their appearance?
I was surprised that the other girls were also anxious about meeting the stylist. I don’t particularly enjoy that aspect of it, but I was sure I’d be the only one. We all had our fears I think. There is a certain LA look that a lot of girls seem to aim for and I personally don’t feel like I fit into that or want to. We did pick up some good fashion and makeup advice though.
Looks and presentation account for so much, especially over there. As a businesswoman I have to learn to make the most of that, but as an actress I am aiming for something more organic. I tried my best to grow while staying true to myself and I think the other girls did too.
We saw examples of size zero, too much plastic surgery etc. It’s frightening when girls cross a dangerous line. It was hard, but we all had a sense of humour about it and were willing to make certain changes. We also recognised that they push the envelope there. What else can you expect from an industry where people look for ways to stand out and compete against each other? I take it with a pinch of salt. Most of the actresses I admire don’t actually conform to that look either. There’s also a lot of pressure on the men over there to look good.
I understand that you studied English and German at UCD. While you were at the college did you get involved with any of the drama societies there?
I spent most of my free time in Dramsoc, hanging out and watching plays. For the sake of my studies I only took part in a couple of shows, but wish I had had the time to do more.
What are some of the Theatre productions you've been involved in and how does that compare to being on camera?
I performed in a range of theatrical productions, mostly fringe and independent theatre. They include dramas, musicals and pantomimes, and before Hollywood Trials I performed in the chorus of Carmen at the National Concert Hall. My favourite role so far is Ermelinda in The Heiress of the Cane Fields – a Portuguese novel set in 19th Century and adapted for the stage and performed in the Greenwich Playhouse in London . I played a young girl falling in love, whose spirit is crushed by her Godmother who has extreme religious beliefs.
I love theatre. I work well in an ensemble and thoroughly enjoy the rehearsal process and the excitement of a live audience.
Film is a very different discipline, which I feel I adapt to easily. It’s great seeing the finished product, but the process feels more tedious and you have to be very patient. It has different rewards. I am probably more influenced by film than theatre overall. The Golden Age of Hollywood and its stars has left its mark on me.
I read on RTE's website that you once worked at Madame Tussauds' Chamber of Horrors in London. What are your memories of that?
That was such a fun experience! It was an ideal day-job for an actor, as flexibility to attend auditions was part of the deal. We got to dress up in crazy make-up and costumes and hang out with other actors and dancers. They actually gave us a workshop on scare techniques and the set had all sorts of hiding places, cages and effects. There were set characters you had to play. I was either a serial killer or the hag with her stick on Jack the Ripper Street . It was always dark and spooky. No one liked being down there on their own! They gave the best Halloween parties!
Ideally what kind of acting roles would you like to be involved in? Would you prefer serious roles? Or maybe something to do with comedy?
I want to try as much as I can, even if I make a fool of myself! I see myself mostly as a dramatic actress. I had my first comedy classes in LA and was surprised at how much I loved them. Comedy is very difficult, but I’m certainly going to jump on an opportunity to give it a shot. I adore musicals and love singing. I can’t dance a lick, but to do something like The Sound of Music or Guys and Dolls would be a dream.
What do you feel you've learned from your experiences over the past twelve months?
My experience of Hollywood Trials has given me a lot of personal reassurance, but also a wake up call. I feel that I won a hard battle doing the series, but I’m still fighting a war and recognize more than ever how strong and resilient I have to be. The education I received has helped me enormously.
What does the future hold in store for you?
I recently accepted a management offer, which I’m very happy about. I’d like to push forward and play roles on TV and film. I completed a documentary-feature called Dracula’s Stoker, which is set for release in the US next August, and I’m very excited about that.
When I’m not on a job I continue to work on low-budget projects to meet people and gain experience. I still have to support myself in between acting work, which is a reality of most actors.
I hope to find work that challenges and inspires me. It’s an unpredictable and an exciting career. I’m looking forward to whatever comes my way!
Finally I'd like to play a small round of word association about your fellow cast from Hollywood Trials. I'm sure you know what it entails. Basically just sum up what comes into your head when you hear the following names:
Anne Marie - comfort
Cat - giddy
Chris - slick
Emmet - sexy
George - hilarious
Holly – Sushi
Joe - drums
Michael - dinner
Susan - grounded
And yourself... - strange
Thanks again Audrey for taking my questions. Very best of luck to you in the future.
Hollywood Trials, RTÉ Two, Thurs, 9.30pm
Taking my questions next weekend is RTE Prime Time presenter and journalist Mark Little. Stay tuned to United Irelander for future interviews.
Previous Weekend Words features here.
Friday, May 02, 2008
Friday Face-Off - Yes or No to Lisbon?
The comments of former Taoiseach and Treaty supporter Garret Fitzgerald were equally repugnant. He described opponents of the Lisbon Treaty as "nitpickers of the extreme right and left"and trotted out the old myth that a No vote would see Ireland lose the good-will of 26 governments. I'm an admirer of Dr Fitzgerald and I'm very disappointed in his remarks. I think I'll therefore give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute his comments to supreme stupidity on his part rather than an act of gutless subservience to Brussels.
Today is interesting however in that it sees the launch of the website 'Yes to Lisbon' (a suitably obsequious name if I may say so) from "The Irish Alliance for Europe". The alliance plans to spend €750,000 over the next six weeks "informing the public about the benefits of a Yes vote". In other words, scaremongering.
I had a visit to the site today and it's quite pitiful. It's filled with pictures of people sporting cheesy grins that make them look like sinister extras from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Don't believe me? Well check it out yourself...
'Europe is ours'
Presumably some marketing 'expert' figured that showing images of beaming lemmings would convince Irish people that everything would be OK and a Yes vote would be the best option...
"Even old people support it!"
"Even working girls support it!"
Hey honey, I was going to vote No to Lisbon over my concerns that it wasn't a good deal for Ireland, but now that I've seen so many smiling faces endorsing the Treaty, I can't think of any reason why I shouldn't vote Yes!
I actually took the time to read the content of what the site itself is saying and I thought I'd add in some of the concerns of those advocating a No vote and combine the two for a new feature which I've named 'Friday Face-Off'. Just to reiterate that the Yes stuff below is their own argument for why people should endorse the Treaty...
Vote Yes to Lisbon: "The vast majority of changes this Treaty brings about are relatively minor in nature but combined they will give us a much more effective EU that will make it work harder for the people of Ireland."
Vote No to Lisbon: "Some of the changes this Treaty brings about will remove Ireland's right to veto decisions by the EU and will make the EU more effective at the expense of smaller states like Ireland."
Conclusion: Well, according to even the Yes camp itself the changes from the Treaty are minor which begs the question why we in Ireland need the Treaty at all? What's the point in voting for a document that will take away many of our own national rights? I would conclude that the No campaign's position is the correct one.
Vote Yes to Lisbon: "There are threats that we as a nation face, that we cannot deal with on our own. This Treaty will better equip us and Europe to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century; such as climate change, the trafficking of women and children, energy security, drugs and globalisation."
Vote No to Lisbon: "It is foolhardy to suggest that we as a nation cannot deal with the challenges mentioned above. Furthermore there is no reason why a Treaty is needed to deal with these issues when the European Union is equipped already to tackle these threats."
Conclusion: I find it quite insulting to hear that we as a nation cannot face threats such as climate change, trafficking, drugs etc. on our own. If our own elected politicians feel that we can't tackle these issues then it's a sad sorry state of affairs indeed. I would conclude that Ireland, with EU assistance if necessary, can tackle these challenges. I see no need for the Treaty to help us tackle these matters and even independent commentators have said that the EU has been functioning just fine without what the Treaty is set to impose upon everyone. Again I'd conclude the No position to be the correct one.
Vote Yes to Lisbon: "The EU will be more efficient so that it can make decisions quicker and easier with less red tape."
Vote No to Lisbon: "Such 'efficiency' would be at the expense of smaller states like Ireland whose power would be greatly reduced."
Conclusion: I find talk of "efficiency", "less red tape", "smoother institutions" etc to be buzz words and a simple smokescreen designed to mask the reality that smaller states like Ireland would have reduced voting power, plus a reduced ability to object to things we don't agree with. I'm not willing to give up aspects of sovereignty to make the EU a more efficient political machine because I know it will be to our detriment. I back the 'No' stance.
Vote Yes to Lisbon: "The EU can finally end its focus on institutional reform and concentrate on making Europe more dynamic and prosperous for citizens in all its member states."
Vote No to Lisbon: "If a loss of focus on institutional reform means ultimately that smaller powers are silenced, then it is not a fair deal."
Conclusion: This is the most baffling point of all from the 'Yes' side and proves to me that they're talking out of their backsides. The use of spin here is extraordinary. What on earth are they on about by making Europe "more dynamic and prosperous for citizens". Is that the best the marketing think-tanks could come up with? I want the EU to live up to the principles it was founded upon and that is to give every nation-state a fair voice. I don't believe the Lisbon Treaty provides for that any more and thus I am more certain than ever that I will vote No.
I really think overall the 'Yes' campaign is a poor one. It is built upon scaremongering from the likes of Dick Roche and Garret Fitzgerald about Ireland's standing being damaged by rejecting the treaty which is utter nonsense. There was no backlash against French and Dutch voters for rejecting the EU Constitution (which is what the Lisbon Treaty is) and there would be no backlash against us.
The Yes campaign has also resorted to slagging off those of us who favour a No vote calling us "extreme", "lunatics" and so forth. Well I've always believed that if you resort to personal insults then you've lost the argument. So, I'll let you make your own minds up on their behaviour.
Ultimately, as the above points from their website highlight, the Yes campaign cannot provide any good reasons whatsoever why the Irish electorate should endorse this Treaty. Every time I've watched an advocate of the Lisbon Treaty on TV all I hear about is how the EU has been good to Ireland, we have had a great run etc. Well that may be true but that is the past tense. We are now talking about the future and the future make-up of the EU is going to be very different. We in Ireland must assess things carefully. I have also heard supporters of a Yes vote amazingly urging Irish people to NOT read the Treaty and instead just trust in the political parties. Well, I would never put my name to a document without reading it and I wouldn't put blind faith into any elected official I can assure you of that.
I would urge Irish people to read up about the Treaty as much as possible and yes that includes both sides. I'll be interviewing a respected academic from UCD this Wednesday who supports the Treaty so I am very open about having a full and frank debate on the Lisbon Treaty. I am confident that a No vote is the best decision for Ireland. I would urge people to give reading the convoluted Treaty a shot on the EU's website even though it is a ridiculously heavy read.
The important thing as I've said many times is that people become aware of what is at stake. I hate the idea that people will vote for this purely on the basis that their local TD told them to. Do not be naive enough to think that it's not a big issue considering there's been little mention of it on the continent. Remember that in France and Holland the EU Constitution was a major bone of contention and was ultimately rejected - only for the national parliaments of the countries to back the Treaty in their respective parliaments under its new name of 'The Lisbon Treaty'.
We have a privilege in Ireland that no other nation-state in Europe has. We have the ability to let the EU know what we really think of their agenda. I know what message I'll be sending. I'll be telling Brussels, and the lemmings in Dublin, that this is not a good enough deal for the citizens of Ireland, and not a good deal for the citizens of Europe either.
In honour of the new man from Italy how about coming up with a caption for this photo from yesterday's press conference?
"I am excited about this group of players and I think Andy Reid has the most beautiful bosom."
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Thursday Thoughts: Taoiseach's tune more like a broken record
Yes Wednesday saw the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern addressing a joint session of the US Congress and proclaiming that "Ireland is at peace". (Ireland might be free from the terrorism of old but check out some of Dublin's streets on a dark night and you'd see we are clearly not at peace)
The speech apparently went down well with the US Congress as Mr Ahern received a number of standing ovations. The text of it is available here. Opinions on the speech over here seem to be quite divided. For instance an RTE poll asks, "How was the Taoiseach's speech before the US Congress?" The results as I write this are...
Made me feel proud to be Irish - 42%
Kissed too much US arse - 41%
Not his best, but not his worst - 7%
Read his script too much - 10%
Personally speaking, I was less interested in whether or not he was kissing arse and more interested in this aspect of the Taoiseach's speech...
"It is profoundly encouraging that we are seeing the members of the European Union continuing to rise together as a force for development, for stability, for peace in the world.
"Soon, the Irish people will vote on a new reform treaty that aims to make the European Union work even more effectively, both internally and in the wider world. I trust in their wisdom to support and to believe in Europe, as they always have."
Need I remind you Mr Ahern that you were invited to give a speech to the US Congress in recognition of your part in the peace process, NOT to give your opinions on the hugely significant Lisbon Treaty which will determine Ireland's relationship with the EU. I think it's an absolute disgrace that he decided to use the occasion as a platform to beg for the Irish public's support. Pathetic!
I suppose it shows how nervous the Irish government are that the Irish electorate will, quite rightly, reject the Treaty due to it not being substandard.
Of course that won't be picked up by many media outlets because right now we're entering into Ahern's final days as Taoiseach and we're all supposed to lament the departure of such a fine statesman. Am I the only one still concerned about the findings of the Mahon tribunal? It's like that's been completely swept under the carpet. Has everybody forgotten that's why he's on his way?
He's not the Messiah...
On Tuesday, the 6th of May, Mr Ahern will tender his resignation to President McAleese while the following day the Dáil is expected to vote Brian Cowen in to succeed him. Mr Cowen will then travel to Áras an Uachtaráin to receive the seal of office before naming the new Cabinet. I'm sure that over the next week or so we'll hear about what a great job Mr Ahern has done, what a great thing it would be if Ireland endorses the Lisbon Treaty, the good times that will beckon with Brian and his buddies, and so on and so forth...
All I ask is that people put things into perspective. We have a health service that is still in dire straits. We have seen increasing incidents of serious criminal activity. We have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty coming up which the government seemingly doesn't want you to read about and which it hopes you will endorse on blind faith alone. We have had our Prime Minister embroiled in an embarrassing cash scandal since last year's election.
In other words, Mr Ahern does not depart from office leaving Ireland as some near-Utopian society the way some commentators appear to be making out. I will give the outgoing Taoiseach credit for his role in the peace process which he undoubtedly played a big part in, however I will not allow the wool to be pulled over my eyes and buy into the Fianna Fáil spin machine that everything here is hunky-dory.
Mr Ahern and his party can sing their tune about the peace process for as long as they want, but a more balanced view of the past needs to be given, and the same must apply to the issues of the present day. In the final lines of Mr Ahern's speech to the US Congress he remarked...
"In history, in politics and in life, there are no ends, only new beginnings."
Well I would be of the opinion that in politics, there are no new beginnings, only new means to an end.
The next few weeks in Irish politics are of massive importance to the future of the country, and it is of vital importance that we the Irish people see through the same old tired cliches, the agendas, the PR, and the BS, and pay close attention to the substance of the issues at hand so as to determine our destinies as best as we possibly can.
The Trials of Hollywood
I'm pleased to say I've got an interview - which I'll be posting over the weekend - with one of the show's stars, the very beautiful and talented Audrey McCoy. If you've been following the show the past few weeks you should enjoy it. If you've not yet caught the programme, well you can catch it tonight on RTE Two at 9:30. It's also available online at RTE's website here, although that might just be available to those of us living in Ireland.
© 2008 United Irelander.